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Does Fasting Make You Smarter?
A new study in mice shows that fasting increases BDNF, a protein that promotes the growth of neuronal connections.
Like all diet trends, the current fasting craze is rooted in one part tradition (numerous religious rituals include fasting, though many were the result of resource management, not spiritual ambition), one part science, and many parts overinflated buzz. Metabolic changes associated with fasting predominantly end when the fast does, while the prospect of living in a perpetual state of fasting is not sustainable for most. As with many questions in nutrition, it leaves us wondering fasting’s actual benefits versus forgettable hyperbole.
Mark Mattson finds fasting satisfying. He has not eaten breakfast in 35 years. The Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging Intramural Research Program consumes 2,000 daily calories in a six-hour window, a practice called intermittent fasting that has grown especially popular in the paleo and ketosis communities.
While Mattson’s daily 18-hour fast anecdotally serves him well, another intermittent fasting trend made famous by Jimmy Kimmel, the 5:2 diet, has soared in popularity. In this regimen you effectively eat whatever you want for five days a week—the wisdom of “whatever” being debatable, however—and restrict your calories to 500 on two of those days. Kimmel’s noticeable weight loss sent this diet into the Internet stratosphere.
Most people begin either of these styles of intermittent fasting to shed pounds. Mattson, however, wanted to learn something else: Can fasting make you smarter? From his recent research into mice, the possibility is now being entertained.
Mattson’s team studied forty mice. Both groups consumed the same number of calories over the course of the study, but one group took every other day off eating while the other group ate normally. The fasting group exhibited a 50 percent increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that John J Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, calls “Miracle-Gro for the brain” due to its role in promoting new neuronal connections.
Whereas neurotransmitters carry out signaling, neurotrophins such as BDNF build and maintain the cell circuitry—the infrastructure itself.
BDNF, Ratey continues, “nourishes neurons like fertilizer.” Since learning requires the strengthening of neuronal connections, the more BDNF that exists in your brain, the more likely those connections will be made. The more BDNF available through this process, the more likely those connections will stick as memory.
Ratey discusses the role exercise has in promoting the growth of BDNF, an important phenomenon I covered in detail in my last book: training your body is just as important for your brain as anything we associate with physical health (such as weight loss). While the cultural emphasis on fitness has been movement, research has shown that, time and again, what you put into your body—or, as Mattson might argue, what you don’t put into your body—is the most relevant factor.
The brain-body connection has become marketing fodder for ambitious health food companies for decades now, shifting with each new sliver of science. Plenty of misinformation regarding the “brain-boosting” effects of antioxidants and “superfoods” is out there. GT’s Kombucha is only one example of a company that had to remove such claims from their bottles; it was revealed that the company was also lying about its products’ sugar content.
For most of history we ate food that was available and edible. The very definition of “food” has changed over the last century, since refrigeration and industrial processing completely altered our perception of what could go into our mouths. How we eat is as different today as what we eat. As Mattson told the NY Times,
From an evolutionary perspective, it’s pretty clear that our ancestors did not eat three meals a day plus snacks.
Will Mattson’s research on mice translate to us bipeds? The jury is out. One study that showed considerable increase in mice life span displayed a smaller effect in primates; benefits are not always transferable. But given the positive news of late about fasting, calorie restriction, and ketosis, it’s obvious that eating whenever you want, whatever you want isn’t working for our waistlines. The leap into our brain’s is not a far jump; more research into this possibility should be considered.
Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.